Stupid Government Tricks

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

At the risk of sounding a bit too much like one of those shouters on AM radio, this week the topic on the table is: stupid government tricks.

They range from the entertaining to the truly bewildering.

Let's start with the revelation, courtesy of L.A. Times reporter Garrett Therolf, that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sips from some very special water at meetings.

Actually, the water itself is just the usual stuff – reportedly, from the people at Arrowhead. It's the bottles that are so precious.

Before the Supervisors come out for their Tuesday meetings in the Hall of Administration, which is downtown on Temple Street, a student worker replaces the Arrowhead labels with a generic LA County label.

The reporter asked a sensible enough question – uh, why?

He was told that the county doesn't want the public watching on TV to see the Supervisors holding Arrowhead bottles. That would be free advertising.

So a college student who makes $9.92 an hour prints out new labels and pastes them in place.

The cost is not really an issue – nothing like the $189,000 that City Hall spends on bottled water. That's more than double what it was when Mayor Villaraigosa decreed a ban a few years ago.

Even so, the county's practice downtown frosts the county workers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. They can't get free water on the job at all anymore. Cost-cutting, they were told.

If you like that exercise in official policy, you'll love an idea floated by the California Air Resources Board.

The agency is kind of heroic in the fight to clean up the air. Think how much less smog there is now, even though the population and the number of cars on the road has soared through the years.

But they goofed by considering a ban on -- black cars.

See, the idea is that black cars get hotter. So drivers use the air conditioning more, using more gas. Which spews more hydrocarbons into the sky.

Officials quickly backtracked after the eye-rolling went national. They never meant to ban black cars, just to start some talk about it.

OK, but at the same time, the air board's new rules on gas pump nozzles did go into effect.

So in the middle of a scary recession, with stations on the verge of closing, owners were told to install expensive new vapor recovery nozzles.

Nozzles that, like black paint, only attack a tiny slice of the air quality problem.

I'm no economist, but is this really the time to press for marginal benefits with costly regulations?

More than one in 10 Californians are out of work. That that's just the official number who haven't given up.

We don't know yet how many more people will lose their jobs -- or will leave school and try to join the workforce -- before the economy starts hiring again.

Then there is the sales tax.

California already had the highest sales tax in the country. Then on April Fool's Day, the tax rate shot up a full point to 8 1/4 percent.

That's for everybody. Here in LA County, we pay another point on top of that due to various hikes voted in by the people or the politicians.

Most recently we passed a half-cent bump to raise millions for transit projects. So on July , the minimum sales tax across LA will be 9 and three-quarters percent.

It's already over 10% in a few smaller cities that OK'd special hikes for their own reasons.

That's another buck and change on a hundred-dollar purchase. A $20,000 car will now cost you almost $2,000 in sales taxes.

The only good news here is that if you double the sales tax to figure your tip at restaurants, your favorite server may now be able to weather this recession.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.